DHS Catches Visa Fraudsters with Fake Phony University

By David North on September 29, 2016

While my colleagues and I are often critical of the way the Department of Homeland Security handles the enforcement of immigration law, today's posting is a (one-off) hymn of praise to the agency for a burst of creativity regarding an element of the OPT foreign worker program.

OPT stands for Optional Practical Training, which turns alien graduates of U.S. colleges and universities back into "students" again and allows them to work, full-time, for up to three years after graduation on their F-1 student visas.

OPT, which is operated under administration rules without any congressional authorization, gives employers a substantial bonus for hiring the foreign alumni. OPT workers are not covered by Social Security or Medicare taxes, so at substantial cost to these trust funds employers get a de facto bonus of up to $15,000 for hiring the foreign grad rather than an American one (or an H-1B) at the same salary. The OPT grads get a similar bonus: the non-payment of payroll taxes at the rate of 7.65 percent a year.

Some phony universities were created by criminals to give OPT credentials to foreign "students," thus allowing them to work in the States while paying tuition and not attending classes. After "graduation", the same students could continue to work with the OPT papers, as we reported on the illegal practices of the University of Northern Virginia and Tri-Valley University.

UNV and Tri-Valley University were genuine phony institutions, in that they really existed and made a bundle on their abilities to create documents for illegal aliens.

In contrast, DHS created a fake phony university, the University of Northern New Jersey, to trap immigration law violators. What was not immediately apparent (at least not to me) was that this governmental scam would be used to catch operators of OPT programs. My sense was that it was intended to cause the arrest of criminal middlemen who were using it to illicitly place foreign students into a non-existent university.

One of the "university's" customers was a small outplacement firm called Right OPT. Earlier this week, two of three people with Indian names who ran that criminal entity pled guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey; they were Harpreet Sachdeva, 26, and Sanjeev Sukhija, 35, both H-1B visa holders. The third person indicted, apparently the ringleader, Narendra Singh Plaha, a naturalized citizen, remains under indictment, but with his two former subordinates cooperating with the prosecutors he faces an up-hill battle. The most recent court records indicate that plea bargaining is underway.

Right OPT collected fees from about 45 OPT workers, presumably totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. It operated from a base in Somerset, in the N.J. suburbs.

There is no indication in the PACER files on this court action (it is case 2:16-mj-06044-SCM) that either the OPT workers or their employers were being indicted, just the middlemen. What should happen, and probably won't, is that the employers should be forced to pay the missing FICA taxes and the OPT workers should be deported.